European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:43 pm on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 1:43 pm, 11th April 2019

We have consistently sought to change the withdrawal agreement, and in particular to change the backstop. The right hon. Gentleman will know full well that we have argued on many occasions for a time limit or a unilateral exit clause, or the replacement of the withdrawal agreement by alternative arrangements. Before the withdrawal agreement was originally agreed in November, the Government pushed consistently for an exit clause, but the EU did not agree to it then. After the first meaningful vote, we raised the issue again. We sought to change the withdrawal agreement, and pushed for it to be replaced by alternative arrangements.

In January, there was an exchange of letters between myself and the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council. On 11 March, in Strasbourg, the President of the European Commission and I agreed a package which means that the EU cannot try to trap the UK in the backstop indefinitely—that would be explicitly a breach of the legally binding commitments that we have agreed—and there is a legal commitment that both parties aim to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements by December 2020. At every stage, we have been working to secure changes in the withdrawal agreement. The European Union has been clear—